Mar 5, 2024 - News

Denver considers sugary drink ban for kids meals

Illustration of a disposable cup of soda from a fast food restaurant with the word NOPE printed on the side.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Restaurants in Denver may be required to exclusively offer water or milk in children's bundled meals.

State of play: Denver City Councilmembers Serena Gonzalez-Gutierrez and Chris Hinds are proposing a measure they say will provide healthier drinking options for children.

The fine print: Under the proposal, drinks with added natural or artificial sweetener would be banned from children's menu items that come with a drink.

  • Milk substitutes, such as almond or soy, and sparkling water would be allowed.

Yes, but: The bill wouldn't ban restaurants from serving sugary drinks to kids, as children or parents can still order any beverage on the menu.

The big picture: Gonzalez-Gutierrez, a mother of three, tells us fast-food restaurants, including national chains — who usually offer kid's meals that can often come with soda or juice — would be required to follow the law, along with mom-and-pop shops.

Between the lines: The restaurant industry is currently struggling to stay afloat, with some owners blaming city laws, including its minimum wage, as a major factor.

What we're hearing: Hinds tells us he met with the Colorado Restaurant Association this week to discuss the bill.

  • Colin Larson, director of government affairs for the association, said in a statement to Axios it's not "yet entirely in agreement," with the measure, but will continue considering the bill as it moves forward.

What they're saying: "This is 'nudge legislation' — we're trying to nudge people to do the right thing," Hinds says, likening the proposal to recent laws charging a bag fee or opting-in for food utensils.

  • Enforcement could include fines, which Hinds calls a "last resort," though the measure doesn't have a specific fine amount.

Context: Three other Colorado cities — Golden, Lafayette and Longmont — have passed similar measures over the past seven years.

  • Lafayette's law was enacted in 2017 and calls for annual self-certification. Currently, 23 of the 45 restaurants in Lafayette required to follow the measure are not compliant, according to documents prepared for Denver City Council.

What's next: The proposal will be discussed Wednesday at the council's business and workforce committee.

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